Manchester City And How Football Got Drafted Into The Culture War

Football fans spend more time answering moral questions than sporting ones these days
17:00, 07 Feb 2023

You’ve read the rap sheet. You’ve dissected the report. You’ve heard exactly which teams will be awarded which Premier League titles should the harshest possible punishment be meted out. Whichever side of the fence you sit on, you’ll have an opinion on the news that Manchester City are being investigated for more than 100 breaches of Premier League financial rules. 

It’s tiring though, isn’t it? As football fans in 2023 we are asked more moral questions than at any time in history. While we used to sit around in the pub and debate who would win the league or whether a particular player deserved a place in his national side, now the paradigm has shifted.


The grotesque echo chamber of social media has replaced the cosy confines of the local boozer as the court of football opinion. The matters being discussed are far less colloquial and endearing too. Rather than debating the merits of starting elevens or the future of academy talent, there are more grave issues at hand. It is a phenomenon that has consumed a number of clubs in recent years. 

Our subjects City are facing their second overarching moral question of recent times. For years they have fielded scrutiny over the human rights record of their owners. The club is owned by City Football Group, of which the majority stake resides with the Abu Dhabi royal family. The human rights record of the United Arab Emirates has drawn much criticism. This has left City fans in a difficult quandary, having to either defend a regime they have no personal involvement in or try and choke down their misgivings and enjoy the football regardless. 

Cityzens are not alone in that fight. Newcastle United fans have been battling the same ideological sturm und drang. The initial relief at deeply unpopular former owner Mike Ashley leaving was soon tempered by the moral difficulties of his replacements. The Saudi Public Investment fund is similar to City’s group in that it is rooted in a region with a questionable human rights record. While some Magpies fans embraced their new owners so wholly they had to be asked to stop wearing traditional Saudi dress to games, others were more cautious. It is a battle for the heart of Newcastle that is still raging between black and white clad fans on social media.


Manchester United might soon join their neighbours City and 1990s title rivals Newcastle in the same boat. With the club up for sale, a chasm is already forming between the sort of fans who beg for “oil money” under every news report about the bidding process and the match-going supporters who don’t want to swap a set of bad owners for a set of horrendous ones. 

Of course the current owners, the Glazer family, have already served to split the fanbase down the middle. While you are unlikely to find a United fan who likes the American family who have laden the club with debt, the reasons for the hate and reactions to them do differ. 

Some fans despise the Glazers because they feel United should be signing the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Jude Bellingham during every window. Others are more annoyed that the club is laden with debt and the stadium has gone to wrack and ruin. One group has never been to a game but will judge the other for still attending and “lining the Glazers pockets”. This is where we are as fans now. Supporters of the same club falling out over moral quandaries rather than swapping good-natured jibes about their respective favourite player or their thoughts on the manager.

City fans now face a new round of these internal battles. If their club is found guilty of this raft of financial breaches, it will likely split the Etihad faithful down the middle. Some will struggle to adjust to a new reality where not only could the club regress to their pre-takeover mean, but their otherworldly success of the last 15 years could be erased. Others, perhaps those that remember Gillingham and all that, will revel in a return to simpler times, unsullied by the lingering human rights questions. 

Football’s morality is a matter that will run and run. But as fans, surely there comes a point where we stop being the arbiters of it? Where are the regulatory bodies ensuring the people who run our clubs aren’t guilty of crimes or abuses? Where are the rules being applied at the time rather than 15 years later, avoiding a scenario where vast swathes of football history could be erased? Football pays a number of governing bodies extremely well to police this stuff. Perhaps the fans watching from the stands or at home should stop being asked to regulate the sport for them.

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